Drug decriminalization really works – Portugal’s example

Gee, wonder if the US could try what Portugal did? Ten years of data should give some real insights, no?1

Mounted Police, Black Friars Lane

Time magazine reports that Europe’s most liberal drug policy has been a huge success. Not, as you might think, those hippie Dutch, but Portugal, where possession of all drugs for personal use was decriminalised in 2001.

A study by the Cato Institute (PDF), a libertarian think tank, has found that in the five years after decriminalisation, Portugal’s drug problems had improved in every measured way. The man behind the research, Glenn Greenwald, a lawyer, told Time:  “Judging by every metric, decriminalization in Portugal has been a resounding success.”

Portuguese policy is that possession of small amounts of any drug is not a criminal offence; if you are found possessing it, you can be put before a panel of a psychologist, social worker and legal adviser, who will decide appropriate treatment. You are free to refuse that treatment, and a jail sentence is not an option. Drug trafficking is still illegal and punishable by jail.

I’ll just go through the figures; apologies for the slew of statistics. Drug use among 13- to 15-year-olds fell from 14.1 per cent in 2001 to 10.6 per cent in 2006. Among 16- to 18-year-olds it has dropped from 27.6 per cent to 21.6 per cent. This, incidentally, has come after years of steadily increasing drug use among the young; between 1995 and 2001, use in the 16-to-18 bracket leapt up from 14.1 per cent to its 2001 high. This drop has come against a background of increasing drug use across the rest of the EU.

There has been a mild increase in use among older groups, 19-24 and up, but this is expected due to the rise in use in the young in the 1990s; it’s a “cohort effect”, meaning that young people get older, and take their habits with them. Further, HIV infections among drug users fell, drug-related deaths fell, there was a decrease in trafficking, and a huge amount of money was saved by offering treatment instead of prison sentences.

(click to continue reading Portugal drug decriminalisation ‘a resounding success’: will Britain respond? No. – Telegraph Blogs.)

Homeland Security Federal Protective Service Police

From Time Magazine:

But there is a movement afoot in the U.S., in the legislatures of New York State, California and Massachusetts, to reconsider our overly punitive drug laws. Recently, Senators Jim Webb and Arlen Specter proposed that Congress create a national commission, not unlike Portugal’s, to deal with prison reform and overhaul drug-sentencing policy. As Webb noted, the U.S. is home to 5% of the global population but 25% of its prisoners.

At the Cato Institute in early April, Greenwald contended that a major problem with most American drug policy debate is that it’s based on “speculation and fear mongering,” rather than empirical evidence on the effects of more lenient drug policies. In Portugal, the effect was to neutralize what had become the country’s number one public health problem, he says.

“The impact in the life of families and our society is much lower than it was before decriminalization,” says Joao Castel-Branco Goulao, Portugual’s “drug czar” and president of the Institute on Drugs and Drug Addiction, adding that police are now able to re-focus on tracking much higher level dealers and larger quantities of drugs.

(click to continue reading Decriminalizing Drugs in Portugal a Success, Says Report – TIME.)

The US officials are too concerned with playing politics with the drug war, and reaping the benefits of asset forfeiture, to actually seriously discuss changing the current farce of a system. Too many vested interests.

  1. left British spelling as in original []

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